Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

* * * * 1/2

From the author of Ayesha at Last comes a sparkling new rom-com for fans of “You’ve Got Mail,” set in two competing halal restaurants

Sales are slow at Three Sisters Biryani Poutine, the only halal restaurant in the close-knit Golden Crescent neighbourhood. Hana waitresses there part time, but what she really wants is to tell stories on the radio. If she can just outshine her fellow intern at the city radio station, she may have a chance at landing a job. In the meantime, Hana pours her thoughts and dreams into a podcast, where she forms a lively relationship with one of her listeners. But soon she’ll need all the support she can get: a new competing restaurant, a more upscale halal place, is about to open in the Golden Crescent, threatening Three Sisters.

When her mysterious aunt and her teenage cousin arrive from India for a surprise visit, they draw Hana into a long-buried family secret. A hate-motivated attack on their neighbourhood complicates the situation further, as does Hana’s growing attraction for Aydin, the young owner of the rival restaurant—who might not be a complete stranger after all.

As life on the Golden Crescent unravels, Hana must learn to use her voice, draw on the strength of her community and decide what her future should be.

Source: NetGalley; ARC generously provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

I'd previously read Jalaluddin's, Ayesha At Last which was brilliant! Now with her follow up about a restaurant rivalry and an anonymous online friendship I knew I'd be in for a very interesting romance, indeed. 

Hana works at her family's restaurant while also working as an intern at a radio station. She has big dreams of developing her own show and discussing topics that are of interest to her. She has her own podcast that's been gaining traction and it's because of this podcast that she's struck up a friendship with a fan. As they remain anonymous in their communications they share personal dreams and goals with each other, oftentimes sharing advice and suggestions. In the meanwhile, problems arise when a new restaurant opens up that threatens to shut down Hana's family's restaurant which has already been struggling recently. Her family's livelihood becomes the center of her focus as she tries to save them, save her broadcast dreams and save herself from falling for her rival and recipient of all her ire, Aydin.

I easily fell into this story and I think mainly because it wasn't centered around finding a spouse. Instead it was firmly about Hana's desire to achieve her career goal of becoming a broadcaster which her parents fully supported. Admittedly, I took to this subplot because I worked in radio in my pre-kids days. A little detail that made me so happy and felt seen is that her fellow intern, Thomas is also South Asian, desi and Christian. Up until this I hadn't read of any desi character similar to me in that way and it felt great to see that representation even if he doesn't have a large role. Hana comes off as a wonderfully confident young woman who has a strong sense of self. Her rivalry and instant dislike of Aydin fuels a lot of the action in the story. And as much as she wants to all out dismiss him, learning of his backstory makes her sympathize with his situation. How he wears his face on the surface belies the turmoil he's reckoning with inside. After a horribly frightening and public racist encounter involving him, herself and her cousin, he shows a different side of himself to her which makes Hana stop to reconsider her actions towards him up until then. The racist incident is jarring and what results from it renews Hana's personal and professional missions.  

Even with the several subplots, I didn't think it was overwhelming nor did it feel like one was distracting from the other. They made sense and tied together, and I think Jalauddin struck a nice balance with all of them. I did think that Hana was a little naive sometimes like when she decided to sabotage Aydin's restaurant opening. It was childish and you could only shake your head at her. Come on Hana, you're smarter than this! With so many things coming to a head, she finds herself at an important juncture in her young adult life and we're witness to her character growth. The mysterious aunt who accompanies the cousin for a stateside visit provides well, the mystery. She's tight-lipped about the purpose of her visit but boy does she drop zingers on Hana. She really shakes up her thinking and gives Hana the inspiration at the very moment she's feeling lost. As for the cousin ... though he brings an outside-the-box kind of mentality, I personally would've preferred a dialed down personality. He was a little too much for me.

I liked Hana Khan Carries On tremendously even if it included heavier issues such as the scary racist encounter and the Islamaphobia that ensues. Hana's admirable journey to maturity during this wild duration of upending events is a big reason for my enjoyment of this book. She gets her happiness and fulfillment because she's determining what and who is important to her. This was a poignant read and I recommend that you add it to your list!

~ Bel


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